The Minimalist Guide to a Long Distance Move

Have I ever mentioned that I love to move? Crazy, I know—but ever since college I’ve barely been able to stay in one place for a year before I’m itching to pack up again. When I was tied to a certain location, I’d use architecture as an excuse—as in, let’s see what it’d be like to live in an old Victorian, or a high rise, or an industrial loft. Or I’d neighborhood-hop, so as to experience living in different parts of a city. But really, I just liked to move. :)

Many of you are familiar with the BIG moves of my recent past—over to London, and then back to the US a few years later. Well, I just did it again—this time from one coast of the US to the other. Having a 3-year-old made it a little more challenging…but you know what? It was still very doable, and dare I say, kind of fun. So I thought I’d share some survival techniques with anyone else considering such an endeavor.

1. Spend at least a moment considering the extreme: selling or otherwise disbursing of all your stuff and starting over.

A long-distance move can be expensive; not just $$ expensive, but $$$$$ expensive. If you’re not particularly attached to your stuff, or it’s not all that nice or valuable to begin with, give some serious thought to leaving it all behind. For the price of transporting it, you may be able to replace it with stuff you like better. This strategy can also generate a tremendous amount of goodwill amongst your family, friends, and neighbors. We have a friend who still thanks us for the iPod speakers we gave him before our overseas move.

We really wanted to do this, and even went so far as to itemize replacement costs. And if we didn’t have a child, we would have made it happen. But the cost and hassle (and in some cases, impossibility) of replacing her favorite books, toys, and other possessions outweighed the benefits. And after uprooting the poor girl from the only life she’d ever known, we felt that maintaining some familiarity would help ease the transition. She seemed genuinely surprised and delighted when we unpacked the same stuff—“that’s OUR couch!!!”—into our new apartment.

2. DIY to whatever extent possible.

Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but I feel that if I’ve accumulated stuff, it’s my responsibility to pack it up and schlep it around. (Call it my penance for possession, similar to why I use eBay.) I’m usually a proponent of rent-your-own-moving-truck—but outfitting one with a car seat for a 3000+ mile drive was not an option. Therefore, we opted for the next best alternative: a pack your own POD (portable on demand storage container), which we then had shipped across the country. Above all, avoid a full-service mover: not only is it pricey, but you won’t get the valuable, eye-opening, and yes, potentially uncomfortable experience of confronting and culling your own possessions.

3. Choose a transport vessel that is ridiculously small for your current amount of stuff.

This will vary according to your circumstances. If you’re single or a childfree couple, it might be your car or a small U-Haul trailer. If you’re a family moving from a 3+ bedroom house, think a POD the size of a walk-in closet. If you don’t panic and break out into a cold sweat at the sight of it, it’s probably too big. ;-) Think of it as packing for a trip, and your pod/trailer/moving truck is a big suitcase. Your goal is to pack light, and take only the essentials.

4. Halve your stuff.

If a die-hard minimalist family like us can find 50% of stuff to get rid of, so can you. It’s easiest if you group everything into categories: if you have 100 books, take only 50; if you have 10 shirts, take 5; if you have 8 pairs of shoes, take 4. The cool part is that you’ll end up with only your very favorite stuff—and you’ll have a wonderful excuse to get rid of the rest (especially those gifts, heirlooms, and ill-conceived purchases that can be so hard to declutter under normal circumstances).

5. Halve it again.

Yes, really. You’re in the groove now, so you might as well keep going—who knows when such an opportunity will come along again (and if you’ve chosen a small enough moving container, you won’t have much choice). This round will get you down to the minimalist Holy Grail, the glorious 20-25% of things you actually use.

6. Pack it up.

You’ve decluttered, and decluttered, and decluttered some more—yet some items will still have slipped through the cracks. It’s in the midst of packing that you will wonder why you have spent a small fortune on bubble paper to wrap a $6 set of Ikea glasses, or spent half a day finding a box to accommodate an odd-sized and seldom-used piece of hobby equipment. These are the enlightening moments that long-distance moves are made of—and another compelling reason to DIY.

7. Reconsider option #1.

Do you really want to drag all this stuff across the country?

8. Run out of time and/or packing materials.

My husband and I tend to be spontaneous, and only gave ourselves 3 weeks to orchestrate our latest move. But it doesn’t matter—we could have had 3 months (or 3 years, for that matter), and everything would still have come down to the wire. That’s when all those decluttering decisions you couldn’t make will be made for you—because in those final moments, the preservation of a cheese grater pales in comparison to getting the padlock on the POD before the truck arrives to collect it.

9. Question your sanity.

Everyone else will, so you may as well join in the fun. Particularly so if you are decamping with no job prospects, family, or housing at your destination, and with no more compelling reason to move than “walkability” or “weather.” It’s a herculean effort, and the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow may not be so obvious to the casual observer (or even, at times, to you).

10. Do it anyway.

Sometimes you just have to follow your heart.

From the moment we landed here, I knew we were home. I have never been so enchanted with the place where I live. I’ve spent the last few weeks wandering the streets, starry-eyed and lovestruck, checking out the playground scene with Plumblossom, the food scene with my husband, and the housing scene with our realtor (yikes to the latter, and a good thing we saved some coin on the move!). Our apartment is temporary, and another short-distance move is in the future; but for the first time, I actually have the desire to put down some roots and stay awhile.

11. Enjoy a vacation from your stuff.

After endless deliberations, decisions, and debates over your stuff, you probably won’t want to see it again for awhile. Enjoy a blissful separation while you await your POD (or if you’re road-tripping, while it’s stashed in your moving truck). We flew to our destination and camped out in our empty apartment for a week, eating on a picnic blanket and sleeping on the floor; and I can honestly say that, after all that packing, I was so tired of our stuff they could have dropped our POD in the sea for all I was concerned.

12. Unpack and unwind.

Of course, the time will come when you have to deal with those boxes on the receiving end—but if you’ve followed the advice above, you’ll be unpacked in a matter of hours (instead of days, weeks, or even months!). The excess will have been culled, and you’ll actually need everything you’ve brought. You’ll feel light, liberated, and ready for a fresh start in your new location. The blood, sweat, and tears will all be worth it, and—as for that 75% you decluttered—I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t miss a thing.

Have you made a long-distance move (or do you fantasize about one)? Tell us your experiences in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

63 comments to The Minimalist Guide to a Long Distance Move

  • Yesterday, I took a box of house plants to the museum where I volunteer. Free to good homes. I only want one or two of each kind. I have given away so much and yet there are more things I can give away. I can see why small space living can be so seductive.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>